Although commensal microbes have been shown to modulate host immune responses, many of the bacterial factors that mediate immune regulation remain unidentified. Select strains of human-derived Lactobacillus reuteri synthesize immunomodulins that potently inhibit production of the inflammatory cytokine TNF. In this study, genetic and genomic approaches were used to identify and investigate L reuteri genes required for human TNF immunomodulatory activity. Ana lysis of membrane fatty acids from multiple L. reuteri strains cultured in MRS medium showed that only TNF inhibitory strains produced the cyclopropane fatty acid (CFA) lactobacillic acid. The enzyme cyclopropane fatty acid synthase is required for synthesis of CFAs such as lactobacillic acid, therefore the cfa gene was inactivated and supernatants from the cfa mutant strain were assayed for TNF inhibitory activity. We found that supernatants from the wild-type strain, but not the cfa mutant, suppressed TNF production by activated THP-1 human monocytoid cells. Although this suggested a direct role for lactobacillic acid in immunomodulation, purified lactobacillic acid did not suppress TNF at physiologically relevant concentrations. We further analyzed TNF inhibitory and TNF non-inhibitory strains under diferent growth conditions and found that lactobacillic acid production did not correlate with TNF inhibition. These results indicate that cfa indirectly contributed to L. reuteri immunomodulatory activity and suggest that other mechanisms, such as decreased membrane fuidity or altered expression of immunomodulins, result in the loss of TNF inhibitory activity. By increasing our understanding of immunomodulation by probiotic species, beneficial microbes can be rationally selected to alleviate intestinal infammation. © 2011 Landes Bioscience.